A Sloth Sanctuary in Ilhéus

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A Top Attraction on Bahia's Cocoa Coast

João Ramos - Bahiatursa

Ilhéus, on Bahia's Cocoa Coast, is home to one of the most important animal rehabilitation centers in the Americas: Centro de Reabilitação Reserva Zoobotânica. Here's an amazing chance to come up close to these docile animals, with their deeply expressive eyes, slow-motion routines and the Megatherium far up their family tree.

Endemic to the Americas, sloths can be two-toed, such as the ones you can see at The Aviarios del Caribe Sloth Sanctuary in Limon, Costa Rica, or three-toed (Bradypodidae), like the ones at the Ilhéus center.

The sanctuary receives animals apprehended from poachers, found and donated by Ibama (the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), the Federal Police, firefighters and the community.

In an area where eucalyptus has taken over huge tracts of land where Atlantic Rainforest once thrived, the endemic maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus, or preguiça-de-coleira) is now an endangered species.

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How the CEPLAC Center Rescues Sloths

The center directed by biologist Vera Lúcia Oliveira rehabilitates maned sloths, which used to be found as far as Rio de Janeiro and now seem to be restricted to the Bahian coastal area between Salvador and Canavieiras, as well as brown-throated sloths (Bradypus variegatus).

Open to visitors year round, the sanctuary (center headquarters and woods) occupies 106 acres. It is part of CEPLAC - the Executive Commission for the Cocoa Farming Plan, where tourists can also enjoy a tour of the processing laboratory. CEPLAC has played a key role in research and improvement of the cocoa culture in the region, which has gradually been recovering from a devastating witch's broom infestation in the late 1990s.

Some sloths never make it past the initial efforts for recovery. They arrive in a miserable state, with broken bones (often due to dog attacks), barely alive after losing their mothers to poachers, or suffering the dramatic effects of captivity.

Sloths suffer from acute stress and die quickly when held in captivity, which triggers a series of dangerous effects in their organism, particularly their neuroendocrine system. Their muscle tone changes and their body contracts into a ball, they lose their appetite and go for up to eight days without eating and more than ten days without defecating. They also suffer panic attacks when approached.

In that stressed condition, they react to touch by moving their arms as if to hit and by tightening their claws, not to attack, but because their muscles are so contracted and because they are seeking a support from which they can hang to relax.

The rehabilitation center works with the recovery of previously captive animals by keeping them in a semi-captive environment with tree trunks, branches, and vines from which they can hang.

The animals refuse food and try to run away, but new leaves from the tree species they normally feed on gradually stimulate their appetite. Sloths don't drink water and obtain their fluids from fresh, succulent leaves and sprouts.

Their diet in the rehabilitation center includes the leaves and sprouts of tararanga, gameleira, embaúba, ingá, and cocoa, as well as lactobacillus, coconut water, and vitamins.

Even after they are rehabilitated, the sloths must go through a quarantine and readaptation cycle before being reintroduced in the wild. Some animals must stay in the recovery area for a longer time because they were so debilitated and malnourished.

From 1992 to 2003, the center received 154 maned sloths (Bradypus torquatus) and 38 brown-throated sloths (Bradypus variegatus). Of those, 74 maned sloths and 23 brown-throated sloths were reintroduced in the CEPLAC reservations (Reserva Zoobotânica, known as Matinha, or "Little Woods", and Reserva Biológica Lemos Maia).

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